AUTHORS - J.B. BURY

 

CHAPTER XIII

THE EMPIRE OF THE KHAZARS AND THE PEOPLES OF THE NORTH

 

1. The Khazars

 

At the beginning of the ninth century the Eastern Empire had two dependencies, remote and isolated, which lived outside the provincial organization, and were governed by their own magistrates, Venice and Cherson. We have seen how Venice, in the reign of Theophilus, virtually became independent of Constantinople; under the same Emperor, the condition of Cherson was also changed, but in a very different sense—it was incorporated in the provincial system. The chief value of both cities to the Empire was commercial; Venice was an intermediary for Byzantine trade with the West, while Cherson was the great centre for the commerce of the North. And both cities lay at the gates of other empires, which were both an influence and a menace. If the people of the lagoons had to defend themselves against the Franks, the Chersonites had as good reason to fear the Khazars. 

In the period with which we are concerned, it is probable that the Khan of the Khazars was of little less importance in the view of the Imperial foreign policy than Charles the Great and his successors. The marriage of an Emperor to the daughter of a Khazar king had signalised in the eighth century that Byzantium had interests of grave moment in this quarter of the globe, where the Khazars had formed a powerful and organized state, exercising control or influence over the barbarous peoples which surrounded them.

Their realm extended from the Caucasus northward to the Volga and far up the lower reaches of that river; it included the basin of the Don, it reached westward to the banks of the Dnieper, and extended into the Tauric Chersonese. In this empire were included peoples of various race—the Inner Bulgarians, the Magyars, the Burdas, and the Goths of the Crimea; while the Slavonic state of Kiev paid a tribute to the Chagan. The Caucasian range divided the Khazars from Iberia and the dependencies of the Caliphate; towards the Black Sea their neighbours were the Alans and the Abasgi; the Dnieper bounded their realm on the side of Great Bulgaria; in the north their neighbours were the Bulgarians of the Volga, and in the east the Patzinaks. All these folks came within the view of Byzantine diplomacy; some of them were to play an important part in the destinies of the Eastern Empire.

The capital of the ruling people was situated on the Caspian Sea, at the mouths of the Volga, and was generally known as Itil. It was a double town built of wood. The western town was named Saryg-shar, or Yellow City, in which the Chagan resided during the winter; over against it was the eastern town of Chamlich or Khazaran, in which were the quarters of the Mohammadan and the Scandinavian merchants. Chamlich seems to have lain on the eastern bank of the eastern branch of the river, while Saryg-shar was built on the island and on the western shore of the western mouth, the two portions being connected by a bridge of boats; so that Itil is sometimes described as consisting of three towns. The island was covered with the fields and vineyards and gardens of the Chagan.

Three other important towns or fortresses of the Khazars lay between Itil and the Caspian gates. Semender was situated at the mouth of the Terek stream at Kizliar. It was a place rich in vineyards, with a considerable Mohammadan population, who lived in wooden houses with convex roofs. The fortress of Belenjer, which lay on the lower course of the Sulek, on the road which leads southward from Kizliar to Petrovsk, seems to have played some part in the earlier wars between the Khazars and the Saracens. Further south still was the town of Tarku, on the road to Kaiakend and the Caspian gates.

The Arabic writers to whom we owe much of our knowledge of Khazaria suggest a picture of agricultural and pastoral prosperity. The Khazars were extensive sheep-farmers; their towns were surrounded by gardens and vineyards; they were rich in honey and wax; and had abundance of fish. The richest pastures and most productive lands in their country were known as the Nine Regions, and probably lay in the modern districts of Kuban and Ter. The king and his court wintered in Itil, but in the spring they went forth and encamped in the plains. According to one report, the Chagan had twenty-five wives, each the daughter of a king, and sixty concubines eminent for their beauty. Each of them had a house of her own, a qubba covered with teakwood, surrounded by a large pavilion, and each was jealously guarded by a eunuch who kept her from being seen. But at a later period a Chagan boasts of his queen, her maidens, and eunuchs, and we are left to wonder whether polygamy had been renounced or was deliberately concealed.

The Chagan himself seems to have taken no direct share in the administration of the state or the conduct of war. His sacred person was almost inaccessible; when he rode abroad, all those who saw him prostrated themselves on the ground and did not rise till he had passed out of sight. On his death, a great sepulchre was built with twenty chambers, suspended over a stream, so I hat neither devils nor men nor worms might be able to penetrate it. The mausoleum was called paradise, and those who deposited his body in one of its recesses were put to death, that the exact spot in which he was laid might never be revealed. A rider who passed it by dismounted, and did not remount until the tomb could be no longer seen. When a new Chagan ascended the throne, a silk cord was bound tightly round his neck and he was required to declare how long he wished to reign; when the period which he mentioned had elapsed, he was put to death. But it is uncertain how far we can believe the curious stories of the Arabic travellers, from whom these details are derived.

We have no information at what time the active authority of the Chagan was exchanged for this divine nullity, or why he was exalted to a position, resembling that of the Emperor of Japan, in which his existence, and not his government, was considered essential to the prosperity of the State. The labours of government were fulfilled by a Beg or viceroy, who commanded the army, regulated the tribute, and presided over the administration. He appeared in the presence of the Chagan with naked feet, and lit a torch; when the torch had burnt out he was permitted to take his seat at the right hand of the monarch. When evil times befell, the people held the Chagan responsible and called upon the Beg to put him to death; the Beg sometimes complied with their demand. The commander of an army who suffered defeat was cruelly treated: his wife, children, and property were sold before his eyes, and he was either executed or degraded to menial rank.

The most remarkable fact in the civilisation of this Turkish people was the conversion of the Chagan and the upper rank of society to Judaism. The religion of the Hebrews had exercised a profound influence on the creed of Islam, and it had been a basis of Christianity; it had won scattered proselytes; but the conversion of the Khazars to the undiluted religion of Jehovah is unique in history. The date of this event has been disputed, and the evidence variously assigns it to the first half of the eighth century or to the beginning of the ninth. There can be no question that the ruler was actuated by political motives in adopting Judaism. To embrace Mohammadanism would have made him the spiritual dependent of the Caliphs, who attempted to press their faith on the Khazars, and in Christianity lay the danger of his becoming an ecclesiastical vassal of the Eoman Empire. Judaism was a reputable religion with sacred books which both Christian and Mohammadan respected; it elevated him above the heathen barbarians, and secured him against the interference of Caliph or Emperor. But he did not adopt, along with circumcision, the intolerance of the Jewish cult. He allowed the mass of his people to abide in their heathendom and worship their idols.

The circumstances of the conversion are as uncertain as the date. Joseph, the Chagan whose Hebrew letter to the Rabbi Chisdai of Cordova in the tenth century is preserved, states that the Roman Emperor and the Caliph, whom he respectively styles the King of Edom and the King of the Ishmaelites, sent embassies laden with rich gifts and accompanied by theological sages, to induce his ancestor to embrace their civilisations. The prince found a learned Israelite and set him to dispute with the foreign theologians. When he saw that they could not agree on a single point, he said, “Go to your tents and return on the third day”. On the morrow, the Chagan sent for the Christian and asked him, “Which is the better faith, that of Israel or that of Islam?” and he replied, “There is no law in the world like that of Israel”. On the second day the Chagan sent for the learned Mohammadan and said, “Tell me the truth, which law seems to you the better, that of Israel or that of the Christians?” And the Mohammadan replied, “Assuredly that of Israel”. Then on the third day the Chagan called them all together and said, “You have proved to me by your own mouths that the law of Israel is the best and purest of the three, and I have chosen it”.

The truth underlying this tradition—which embodies the actual relation of Judaism to the two other religions—seems to be that endeavours were made to convert the Chagans both to Christianity and to Islam. And, as a matter of fact, in the reign of Leo III the Caliph Mar wan attempted to force the faith of Mohammad upon the Khazars, and perhaps succeeded for a moment. He invaded their land in 737, and marching by Belenjer and Semender, advanced to Itil. The Chagan was at his mercy, and obtained peace only by consenting to embrace Islam. As Irene, who married the Emperor Constantine V, must have been the daughter or sister of this Chagan, it is clear that in this period there were circumstances tending to draw the Khazars in the opposite directions of Christ and Mohammad. And this is precisely the period to which the evidence of the Letter of Joseph seems to assign the conversion to Judaism. We may indeed suspect that Judaism was first in possession—a conclusion which the traditional story unintentionally suggests. The Jewish influence in Khazaria was due to the encouragement given by the Chagans to Hebrew merchants. Of the Jewish port of Tamatarkha more will be said presently; and we may notice the Jewish population at Jundar, a town in the Caucasus, which was governed in the ninth century by a relation of the Chagan, who is said to have prayed impartially with the Moslems on Friday, with the Jews on Saturday, and with the Christians on Sunday.

Somewhat later in the eighth century a princess of the Khazars married the Saracen governor of Armenia, and there was peace on the southern frontier till the reign of Harun al-Rashid. In 798 another marriage alliance was arranged between a daughter of the Chagan and one of the powerful family of the Barmecides. The lady died in Albania on the way to her bridal, and the officers who were in charge of her reported to her father their suspicion that she had been poisoned. The suggestion infuriated the Chagan, and in the following year the Khazars invaded Armenia, by the Gates of Derbend, and returned with an immense booty in captives. Then Harun’s son, Mamun, carried his arms victoriously into the land of the Khazars.

 

2. The Subjects and Neighbours of the Khazars

 

The Khazars had never succeeded in extending their lordship over their neighbours the Alans, whose territory extended from the Caucasus to the banks of the river Kuban and was bounded on the west by the Euxine. The Alans, who have survived to the present day under the name of the Ossetians, were a mainly pastoral people; their army consisted in cavalry; and they had a fortress, which was virtually impregnable, at the so-called Alan-gate of the Caucasus or Pass of Dariel. We are told that the habitations of the people were so close together that when a cock crowed in one place he was answered by all the cocks in the rest of the kingdom. At some time before the tenth century the king adopted Christianity, but the mass of his subjects remained heathen. He received his Christianity from Constantinople, and the Emperors appropriated to him the special title of exusiastes. Between the Alans and the Khazars were the habitations of the Sarirs, a heathen people whose name does not come into the annals of Byzantium.

North of the Alans, between the rivers Kuban and Don, the territory of the Khazars extended to the shores of the Maeotic lake, and at the mouth of that water they possessed the important town of Tamatarkha, the modern Taman, which had arisen close to the ancient Phanagoria, over against the city of Bosporos on the other side of the straits. The commercial importance of Tamatarkha, which had a large Jewish population, will claim our attention presently. Bosporos itself, the ancient Pantikapaion, was under the control of the Khazars, and the Tetraxite Goths, who occupied the greater part of the Crimea, were subject to their sway. The Gothic capital, Doras, had been taken by the Khazars before 787, and in the following years the Goths, under the leadership of their bishop, had made an attempt to throw off the yoke of their powerful neighbours.

North of the Don and extending to the banks of the Dnieper were the tents and hunting-grounds of the Magyars or Hungarians. The continuous history of this Finnish people, who lived by hunting and fishing, begins in the ninth century, and if we think we can recognise it under other names in the days of Attila and the early migrations, our conclusions are more or less speculative. It is, however, highly probable that the Magyars had lived or wandered for centuries in the regions of the Volga, had bowed to the sway of the great Hun, and had been affected by the manners of their Turkish neighbours. They spoke a tongue closely akin to those of the Finns, the Ostyaks, the Voguls, and the Samoyeds, but it is likely that even before the ninth century it had been modified, in its vocabulary, by Turkish influence. A branch of the people penetrated in the eighth century south of the Caucasus, and settled on the river Cyrus, east of Tiflis and west of Partav, where they were known to the Armenians by the name of Sevordik or “Black children”. These Black Hungarians, in the ninth century, destroyed the town of Shamkor, and the governor of Armenia repeopled it with Khazars who had been converted to Islam (854-855 ).

On the northern shore of the Sea of Azov, and extending towards the Dnieper, was the land of the Inner or Black Bulgarians, which thus lay between the Magyars and the Goths. The lower Dnieper seems to have formed the western boundary of the Khazar Empire, but their influence extended up that river, over some of the Eastern Slavs. The Slavs round Kiev paid at one time tribute to the Chagan, who perhaps ensured them against the depredations of the Magyars.

On the central Volga was the extensive territory of the Burdas, who were subject to the Khazars, and formed a barrier against the Outer Bulgarians, their northern neighbours, whose dominion lay on the Volga and its tributary the Kama, including the modern province of Kasan.

If the Burdas served the Khazars as a barrier against the northern Bulgarians, they were also useful in helping to hold the Patzinaks in check. This savage people possessed a wide dominion between the Volga and the Ural; their neighbours were, to the north-west the Burdas, to the north the Kipchaks, to the east the Uzes, to the south-west the Khazars. It would seem that some of their hordes pressed early in the ninth century, west of the Volga, into the basin of the Don, and became the formidable neighbours of the most easterly Slavonic tribes.

 

3. The Russians and their Commerce

 

Such, in the early part of the ninth century, was the general chart of the Turkish Empire of the Khazars, their clients, and their neighbours. Before we consider the import of this primitive world for the foreign policy of the Roman Empire, it is necessary to glance at yet another people, which was destined in the future to form the dominant state in the region of the Euxine and which, though its home still lay beyond the horizon of Constantinople and Itil, was already known to those cities by the ways of commerce. The Russians or Rus were Scandinavians of Eastern Sweden who, crossing the Baltic and sailing into the Gulf of Finland, had settled on Lake Ilmen, where they founded the island town, known as Novgorod, the Holmgard of Icelandic Saga, at the point where the river Volkhov issues from the northern waters of the lake. They were active traders, and they monopolized all the traffic of north-eastern Europe with the great capitals of the south, Constantinople, Baghdad, and Itil. Their chief wares were the skins of the castor and the black fox, swords, and men. The Slavs were their natural prey; they used to plunder them in river expeditions, and often carry them off, to be transported and sold in southern lands. Many of the Slavs used to purchase immunity by entering into their service. The Russians did not till the soil, and consequently had no property in land; when a son was born, his father, with a drawn sword in his hand, addressed the infant: “I leave thee no inheritance; thou shalt have only what thou winnest by this sword”. They were, in fact, a settlement of military merchants—it is said their numbers were 100,000— living by plunder and trade. They had a chief who received a tithe from the merchants.

The Russian traders carried their wares to the south by two river routes, the Dnieper and the Volga. The voyage down the Dnieper was beset by some difficulties and dangers. The boats of the Russians were canoes, and were renewed every year. They rowed down as far as Kiev in the boats of the last season, and here they were met by Slavs, who, during the winter had cut down trees in the mountains and made new boats, which they brought down to the Dnieper and sold to the merchants. The gear and merchandise were transhipped, and in the month of June they sailed down to the fort of Vytitshev, where they waited till the whole flotilla was assembled. South of the modern Ekaterinoslav the Dnieper forces its way for some sixty miles through high walls of granite rock, and descends in a succession of waterfalls which offer a tedious obstacle to navigation. The Slavs had their own names for these falls, which the Russians rendered into Norse. For instance, Vlnyi-prag was translated literally by Baru-fors, both names meaning “billowy waterfall”, and this “force” is still called Volnyi, “the billowy”. In some cases the navigators, having unloaded the boats, could guide them through the fall; in others it was necessary to transport them, as well as their freights, for a considerable distance. This passage could not safely be made except in a formidable company; a small body could have fallen a prey to predatory nomads like the Hungarians and the Patzinaks. On reaching the Black Sea, they could coast westwards to Varna and Mesembria, but their usual route was to Cherson. There they supplied the demands of the Greek merchants, and then rounding the south of the peninsula, reached the Khazar town of Tamatarkha, where they could dispose of the rest of their merchandise to the Jewish traders, who in their turn could transport it to Itil, or perhaps to Armenia and Baghdad. But the Russians could also trade directly with Itil and Baghdad. The Volga carried them to Itil, where they lodged in the eastern town; then they embarked on the Caspian Sea and sailed to various ports within the Saracen dominion; sometimes from Jurjan they made the journey with camels to Baghdad, where Slavonic eunuchs served as their interpreters.

This commerce was of high importance both to the Emperor and to the Chagan, not only in itself, but because the Emperor levied a tithe at Cherson on all the wares which passed through to Tamatarkha, and the Chagan exacted the same duty on all that passed through Chamlieh to the dominion of the Saracens. The identity of the amount of the duties, ten per cent, was the natural result of the conditions

 

4. Imperial Policy. The Russian Danger

 

The first principle of Imperial policy in this quarter of the world was the maintenance of peace with the Khazars. This was the immediate consequence of the geographical position of the Khazar Empire, lying as it did between the Dnieper and the Caucasus, and thus approaching the frontiers of the two powers which were most formidable to Byzantium, the Bulgarians and the Saracens. From the seventh century, when Heraclius had sought the help of the Khazars against Persia, to the tenth, in which the power of Itil declined, this was the constant policy of the Emperors. The Byzantines and the Khazars, moreover, had a common interest in the development of commerce with Northern Europe ; it was to the advantage of the Empire that the Chagan should exercise an effective control over his barbarian neighbours, that his influence should be felt in the basin of the Dnieper, and that this route should be kept free for the trade of the north. It is not improbable that attempts had been made to convert the Khazars to Christianity, for no means would have been more efficacious for securing Byzantine influence at Itil. The Chagans were not impressed by the religion of Christ; but it was at least a matter for satisfaction at Byzantium that they remained equally indifferent to the religion of Mohammad.

While the relations of Constantinople and Itil were generally peaceful, there were, however, possibilities of war. The two powers were neighbours in the Crimea. We have seen how the sway of the Khazars extended over the Crimean Goths and the city of Bosporos or Kerch, and it was their natural ambition to extend it over the whole peninsula, and annex Cherson. The loss of Cherson, the great commercial port and market-place in the north-east, would have been a sensible blow to the Empire. There were other forts in the peninsula, in the somewhat mysterious Roman territory or frontier which was known as the Klimata or Regions. The business of defence was left entirely to the Chersonites; there was no Imperial officer or Imperial troops to repel the Khazars, who appear to have made raids from time to time. But Imperial diplomacy, in accordance with the system which had been elaborated by Justinian, discovered another method of checking the hostilities of the Khazars. The plan was to cultivate the friendship of the Alans, whose geographical position enabled them to harass the march of a Khazar army to the Crimea and to make reprisals by plundering the most fertile parts of the Khazar country. Thus in the calculations of Byzantine diplomacy the Alans stood for a check on the Khazars.

The situation at Cherson and the movements in the surrounding countries must have constantly engaged the attention of the Imperial government, but till the reign of Theophilus no important event is recorded. This Emperor received (c. 833) an embassy from the Chagan and the Beg or chief minister of the Khazars, requesting him to build a fort for them close to the mouth of the Don, and perhaps this fort was only to be the most important part of a long line of defence extending up that river and connected by a fosse with the Volga. Theophilus agreed to the Chagan’s proposal. He entrusted the execution of the work to an officer of spatharo-candidate rank, Petronas Kamateros, who sailed for Cherson with an armament of ships of the Imperial fleet, where he met another contingent of vessels supplied by the Katepano or governor of Paphlagonia. The troops were re-embarked in ships of burden, which bore them through the straits of Bosporos to the spot on the lower Don where this stronghold was to be built. As there was no stone in the place, kilns were constructed and bricks were prepared by embedding pebbles from the river in a sort of asbestos. The fort was called in the Khazar tongue Sarkel, or White House, and it was guarded by yearly relays of three hundred men.

When Petronas returned to Constantinople he laid a report of the situation before the Emperor and expressed his opinion that there was grave danger of losing Cherson, and that the best means of ensuring its safety would be to supersede the local magistrates and commit the authority to a military governor. The advice of Petronas was adopted, and he was himself appointed the first governor, with the title of “Strategos of the Klimata”. The magistrates of Cherson were not deposed, but were subordinated to the strategos.

In attempting to discover the meaning and motives of these transactions we must not lose sight of the close chronological connection between the service rendered by the Greeks to the Khazars, in building Sarkel, and the institution of the strategos of Cherson. The latter was due to the danger of losing the city, but we are not told from what quarter the city was threatened. It is evident that the Khazars at the same moment felt the need of defence against some new and special peril. The fortification cannot have been simply designed against their neighbours the Magyars and the Patzinaks; for the Magyars and Patzinaks had been their neighbours long. We can hardly go wrong in supposing that the Khazars and the Chersonites were menaced by the same danger, and that its gravity had been brought home both to the Emperor and to the Khazar ruler by some recent occurrence. The jeopardy which was impending over the Euxine lands must be sought at Novgorod.

It was not likely that the predatory Scandinavians would be content with the gains which they earned as peaceful merchants in the south. The riches of the Greek towns on the Euxine tempted their cupidity, and in the reign of Theophilus, if not before, they seem to have descended as pirates into the waters of that sea, to have plundered the coasts, perhaps venturing into the Bosphorus, and especially to have attacked the wealthy and well-walled city of Amastris, which was said to have been saved by a miracle. We also hear of an expedition against the Chersonese, the despoiling of Cherson, and the miraculous escape of Sugdaia. Such hostings of Russian marauders, a stalwart and savage race, provide a complete explanation of the mission of Petronas to Cherson, of the institution of a strategos there, and of the cooperation of the Greeks with the Khazars in building Sarkel. In view of the Russian attack on Amastris, it is significant that the governor of Paphlagonia assisted Petronas; and we may conjecture with some probability that the need of defending the Pontic coasts against a new enemy was the motive which led to the elevation of this official from the rank of katepano to the higher status of a strategos.

The timely measures adopted by Theophilus were efficacious for the safety of Cherson. That outpost of Greek life was ultimately to fall into the hands of the Russians, but it remained Imperial for another century and a half; and when it passed from the possession of Byzantium, the sacrifice was not too dear a price for perpetual peace and friendship with the Russian state, then becoming a great power.

Some years after the appointment of the strategos of Cherson, Russian envoys arrived at the court of Theophilus (838-839). Their business is not recorded; perhaps they came to offer excuses for the recent hostilities against the Empire. But they seem to have dreaded the dangers of the homeward journey by the way they had come. The Emperor was dispatching an embassy to the court of Lewis the Pious. He committed the Russians to the care of the ambassadors, and in his letter to Lewis requested that sovran to facilitate their return to their own country through Germany.

In their settlement at Novgorod, near the Baltic, the Russians were far away from the Black Sea, to the shores of which their traders journeyed laboriously year by year. But they were soon to form a new settlement on the Dnieper, which brought them within easy reach of the Euxine and the Danube. The occupation of Kiev is one of the decisive events in Russian history, and the old native chronicle assigns it to the year 862. If this date is right, the capture of Kiev was preceded by one of the boldest marauding expeditions that the Russian adventurers ever undertook.

In the month of June, 860, the Emperor, with all his forces, was marching against the Saracens. He had probably gone far when he received amazing tidings, which recalled him with all speed to Constantinople. A Russian host had sailed across the Euxine in two hundred boats, entered the Bosphorus, plundered the monasteries and suburbs on its banks, and overrun the Islands of the Princes. The inhabitants of the city were utterly demoralised by the sudden horror of the danger and their own impotence. The troops (Tagmata) which were usually stationed in the neighbourhood of the city were far away with the Emperor and his uncle; and the fleet was absent. Having wrought wreck and ruin in the suburbs, the barbarians prepared to attack the city. At this crisis it was perhaps not the Prefect and the ministers entrusted with the guardianship of the city in the Emperor’s absence who did most to meet the emergency. The learned Patriarch, Photius, rose to the occasion; he undertook the task of restoring the moral courage of his fellow-citizens. If the sermons which he preached in St. Sophia were delivered as they were written, we may suspect that they can only have been appreciated by the most educated of his congregation. His copious rhetoric touches all sides of the situation, and no priest could have made better use of the opportunity to inculcate the obvious lesson that this peril was a punishment for sin, and to urge repentance. He expressed the general feeling when he dwelt on the incongruity that the Imperial city, “queen of almost all the world”, should be mocked by a band of slaves, a mean and barbarous crowd. But the populace was perhaps more impressed and consoled when he resorted to the ecclesiastical magic which had been used efficaciously at previous sieges. The precious garment of the Virgin Mother was borne in procession round the walls of the city; and it was believed that it was dipped in the waters of the sea for the purpose of raising a storm of wind. No storm arose, but soon afterwards the Russians began to retreat, and perhaps there were not many among the joyful citizens who did not impute their relief to the direct intervention of the queen of heaven. Photius preached a sermon of thanksgiving as the enemy were departing; the miraculous deliverance was an inspiring motive for his eloquence.

It would be interesting to know whether Photius regarded the ceremony which he had conducted as a powerful means of propitiation, or rather valued it as an efficacious sedative of the public excitement. He and all who were not blinded by superstition knew well that the cause which led to the sudden retreat of the enemy was simple, and would have sufficed without any supernatural intervention. It is evident that the Russians became aware that the Emperor and his army were at hand, and that their only safety lay in flight. But they had delayed too long. Michael and Bardas had hurried to the scene, doubtless by forced marches, and they must have intercepted the barbarians and their spoils in the Bosphorus. There was a battle and a rout; it is possible that high winds aided in the work of destruction.

The Russians had chosen the moment for their surprise astutely. They must have known beforehand that the Emperor had made preparations for a campaign in full force against the Saracens. But what about the fleet? Modern historians have made this episode a text for the reproach that the navy had been allowed to fall into utter decay. We have seen, on the contrary, that the Amorians had revived the navy, and the impunity which the barbarians enjoyed until the arrival of the Emperor must be explained by the absence of the Imperial fleet. And, as a matter of fact, it was absent in the west. The Sicilian fortress of Castrogiovanni had been captured by the Moslems in the previous year, and a fleet of 300 ships had been sent to Sicily. The possibility of an attack from the north did not enter into the calculations of the government. It is clear that the Russians must have been informed of the absence of the fleet, for otherwise they would never have ventured in their small boats into the jaws of certain death.

The episode was followed by an unexpected triumph for Byzantium, less important in its immediate results than as an augury for the future. The Northmen sent ambassadors to Constantinople, and—this is the Byzantine way of putting it—besought the Emperor for Christian baptism. We cannot say which, or how many, of the Russian settlements were represented by this embassy, but the object must have been to offer amends for the recent raid, perhaps to procure the deliverance of prisoners. It is certain that some of the Russians agreed to adopt Christianity, and the Patriarch Photius could boast (in 866) that a bishop had been sent to teach the race which in cruelty and deeds of blood left all other peoples far behind. But the seed did not fall on very fertile ground. For upwards of a hundred years we hear no more of the Christianity of the Russians. The treaty, however, which was concluded between 860 and 866, led probably to other consequences. We may surmise that it led to the admission of Norse mercenaries into the Imperial fleet —a notable event, because it was the beginning of the famous Varangian service at Constantinople, which was ultimately to include the Norsemen of Scandinavia as well as of Russia, and even Englishmen.

It has been already observed that the attack upon Constantinople happened just before the traditional date of a far more important event in the history of Russia—the foundation of the principality of Kiev. According to the old Russian chronicle, Rurik was at this time the ruler of all the Scandinavian settlements, and exercised sway over the northern Slavs and some of the Finns. Two of his men, Oskold and Dir, set out with their families for Constantinople, and, coming to the Dnieper, they saw a castle on a mountain. On enquiry they learned that it was Kiev, and that its inhabitants paid tribute to the Khazars. They settled in the place, gathered many Norsemen to them, and ruled over the neighbouring Slavs, even as Rurik ruled at Novgorod. Some twenty years later Rurik's son Oleg came down and put Oskold and Dir to death, and annexed Kiev to his sway. It soon overshadowed Novgorod in importance, and became the capital of the Russian state. It has been doubted whether this story of the founding of Kiev is historical, but the date of the foundation, in chronological proximity to 860, is probably correct.

 

5. The Magyars

 

The Russian peril had proved a new bond of common interest between the Empire and the Khazars, and during the reign of Michael (before 862), as we have seen, a Greek missionary, Constantine the Philosopher, made a vain attempt to convert them to Christianity.

About this time a displacement occurred in the Khazar Empire which was destined to led to grave consequences not only for the countries of the Euxine but for the history of Europe. At the time of Constantine's visit to the Khazars, the home of the Magyars was still in the country between the Dnieper and the Don, for either in the Crimea itself or on his journey to Itil, which was probably by way of the Don, his party was attacked by a band of Magyars. A year or two later the Magyar people crossed the Dnieper.

The cause of this migration was the advance of the Patzinaks from the Volga. We may guess that they were pressed westward by their Eastern neighbours, the Uzes; we are told that they made war upon the Khazars and were defeated, and were therefore compelled to leave their own land and occupy that of the Magyars. The truth may be that they made an unsuccessful attempt to settle in Khazaria, and then turned their arms against the Magyar people, whom they drove beyond the Dnieper. The Patzinaks thus rose above the horizon of the Empire and introduced a new element into the political situation. They had no king; they were organized in eight tribes, with tribal chiefs, and each tribe was subdivided into five portions under subordinate leaders. When a chief died he was succeeded by a first cousin or a first cousin’s son; brothers and sons were excluded, so that the chieftainship should be not confined to one branch of the family.

The Magyars now took possession of the territory lying between the Dnieper and the lower reaches of the Pruth and the Seret—a country which had hitherto belonged to the dominion of the Khans of Bulgaria. They were thus close to the Danube, but the first use they made of their new position was not against Bulgaria. In 862 they showed how far they could strike by invading territories in central Europe which acknowledged the dominion of Lewis the German, the first of that terrible series of invasions which were to continue throughout a hundred years, until Otto the Great won his crushing victory at Augsburg. If we can trust the accounts of their enemies, the Magyars appear to have been a more terrible scourge than the Huns. It was their practice to put all males to the sword, for they believed that warriors whom they slew would be their slaves in heaven; they put the old women to death; and dragged the young women with them, like animals, to serve their lusts. Western writers depict the Hungarians of this period as grotesquely ugly, but, on the other hand, Arabic authors describe them as handsome. We may reconcile the contradiction by the assumption that there were two types, the consequence of blending with other races. The original Finnish physiognomy had been modified by mixture with Iranian races in the course of many generations, during which the Magyars, in the Caucasian regions, had pursued their practice of women-lifting.

Up to the time of their migration the Magyars, like the Patzinaks, had no common chieftain, but among the leaders of their seven tribes one seems to have had a certain preeminence. His name was Lebedias, and he had married a noble Khazar lady, by whom he had no children. Soon after the crossing of the Dnieper, the Chagan of the Khazars, who still claimed the rights of suzerainty over them, proposed to the Magyars to create Lebedias ruler over the whole people. The story is that Lebedias met the Chagan—but we must interpret this to mean the Beg—at Kalancha in the gulf of Perekop, and refused the offer for himself, but suggested Salmutzes, another tribal chief, or his son Arpad. The Magyars declared in favour of Arpad, and he was elevated on a shield, according to the custom of the Khazars, and recognized as king. In this way the Khazars instituted king­ship among the Magyars. But while this account may be true so far as it goes, it furnishes no reason for such an im­portant innovation, and it is difficult to see why the Khazar government should have taken the initiative. We shall probably be right in connecting the change with another fact, which had a decisive influence on Magyar history. Among the Turks who composed the Khazar people, there was a tribe— or tribes—known as the Kabars, who were remarkable for their strength and bravery. About this time they rose against the Chagan; the revolt was crushed; and those who escaped death fled across the Dnieper and were received and adopted by the Magyars, to whose seven tribes they were added as an eighth. Their bravery and skill in war enabled them to take a leading part in the counsels of the nation. We are told that they taught the Magyars the Turkish language, and in the tenth century both Magyar and Turkish were spoken in Hungary. The result of this double tongue is the mixed character of the modern Hungarian language, which has supplied specious argument for the two opposite opinions as to the ethnical affinities of the Magyars. We may suspect that the idea of introducing kingship was due to the Kabars, and it has even been conjectured that Arpad belonged to this Turkish people which was now permanently incorporated in the Hungarian nation.

 

CHAPTER XIV . ART, LEARNING AND EDUCATION. THE AMORIAN PERIOD